Photo Courtesy of Kairos Response
CaterpillarAn effort to have The United Methodist Church divest from companies doing business in Israel was defeated at the 2012 General Conference.
A United Methodist Insight Exclusive
For almost 10 years, United Methodists who advocate for boycott, divestment, and/or sanctions (BDS) as a strategy for peace in the Middle East have promoted their recommendations as a "moral imperative" for United Methodists. However, this approach diverts energy from the restorative paths that Jesus demonstrated and complicates legitimate diplomacy efforts by official leadership. By exacerbating the complicated conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, BDS advocates seek to arouse public opinion, which they believe is the only force powerful enough to bring the parties to a negotiated settlement.
Recently a few annual conferences have considered or adopted resolutions proposing divestment in an attempt to influence public opinion about Israel’s security measures that oppress Palestinians. Threats of punitive measures such as boycott and divestment certainly make headlines, but it is more heartening to see how gestures of hope and respect are moving Israel and Palestine into dialogue and negotiations. Punitive actions often backfire and delay constructive progress. Despite claims that divestment is non-violent, it is inherently punitive since it seeks to change behavior by shaming targeted groups. The church of Jesus Christ has a moral imperative to work for peace through positive actions as described in the Great Commandments.
If parties supporting Palestinians and Israelis really want a negotiated settlement, then we all should celebrate the current peace talks process, even though significant work lies ahead. Because our ultimate hope is peace, any steps forward deserve celebration by all parties, without waiting for the final results.
Too often, publicized statements about current and historical events are biased and incomplete. United Methodists are urged to read disseminated material carefully and to utilize multiple sources for information. Some recent reports of annual conference and the 2012 General Conference actions include misrepresentations and errors that may create confusion for casual readers.
For example, the United Methodist Kairos press release dated June 20 referred to a Virginia Conference action for divestment taken in 2005 and omitted the more recent 2011 resolution in which the Virginia Conference expressly rejected boycott and divestment and recommended positive actions. A resolution at the 2013 New England Annual Conference was presented as important action-oriented legislation. However, the organizations with invested funds under management were specifically excluded, precluding any real action.
In addition, the defeat of all divestment language at the 2012 General Conference is ignored or re-interpreted by activists. Divestment advocates have also interpreted and incorrectly reported actions taken by TIAA-CRFF regarding SodaStream and the reasoning regarding TIAA-CRFF’s decision regarding Caterpillar stocks. These examples should motivate church leaders to carefully consider media-directed reports and to seek information from additional sources.
People who seek to promote justice through the path of peace-building and reconciliation know the importance of acknowledging and respecting multiple points of view and the danger of interpreting actions and events to suit a preferred narrative or outcome. People who have listened to a variety of different perspectives regarding the conflict in the Holy Land discern that punitive measures will not work because traumatized people are already afraid. It is indisputable that many Israelis and Palestinians have experienced and continue to experience great pain and trauma, which sustains the ongoing cycles of violence, destructive and self-destructive behaviors. All experiences of harm and unresolved trauma require healing and deserve careful attention to avoid reinforcing the cycle of violence. A punitive course of action casts the church in the role of oppressor and may also violate our Social Principles, which call the church to “promote restorative justice strategies to support positive social change and peace building” [United Methodist Book of Discipline Paragraph 165(B)]. Punitive measures should not be the church’s only contribution to the search for a peaceful solution to this conflict.
Other denominations are turning to positive investment and restorative action in Israel and Palestine, and it is time for the UMC to channel the energy being poured into BDS activism into more positive strategies. Could the General Board of Global Ministries give more focus to promoting the missions and ministries we have established in the region? Could GBGM and the General Board of Church & Society engage with more voices in the region and establish relationships with Israeli and Palestinian leaders representing more diverse perspectives amongst Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures? Could GBGM and C&S focus on hearing more narratives and opinions from all parties so the church could be a partner and advocate for reconciliation? Could the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits invest through its Positive Social Purpose Lending resources in some of the many significant Palestinian business and development projects?
We thank God for advocates who raise our awareness of injustices, yet our charge is to love our neighbors and our enemies and to address injustice through peace building and reconciliation. Will future generations look back and see a church that focused on punitive measures only and called that peacemaking? Will our church invest in integrity and justice for all, carefully examining the complexity of human conflicts, and commit more resources to creative and constructive peace building? We believe Christ calls us to fully implement positive and restorative strategies, as begun in the 2012 General Conference Resolution 20171, in our quest for justice and peace for all people.
Phil Susag is a layman in the New England Annual Conference and a former delegate to both the Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference and the United Methodist General Conference.